By Gary Montgomery
Los Angeles/Inglewood - For the past 19 summers, Magic Johnsons charity classic has provided hoop fans with an opportunity to see and enjoy the greatest basketball players on the planet.
The accompanying concerts, dinners and other activities are now nationally recognized as Magics Weekend.
The only other event to eclipse Magics weekend, in terms of bringing NBA stars to one city, is the annual all-star game and activities.
When you set out to do something, you never think it will be this successful, said a weary-looking Johnson. Magic continued, It has been successful because we made it an event. Its happening, its hot, the after parties are hot, everything is fun. Youve got to make it happening! Players will want to come, because its an event they can enjoy. A recent survey listed us as the summers top entertainment event, with Alonzo Mornings charity event as second, and a distant at that. By far, we are the hottest event of the summer.
Year after year, Magics Midsummer Nights brings out the biggest celebrities in Los Angeles. Strolling through the streets at Magics Harlem Nights you will see movie and television stars, students, teachers and, of course, athletes, all swaying to the soulful sounds of Carl Thomas and Chaka Khan, enjoying the evening. Magics parties are a cross section of all kinds of people coming together to have a great time and help a worthy cause, said Kristal Martin, a set designer for one of the major studios.
Magic Johnson has coalescenced his efforts over the past 19 years using his star power and magnetic personality to raise funds for the Johnson Foundation. The funds raised benefit the Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program, which currently has 250 scholarship recipients. Each year Johnson awards another 25-30 deserving students with scholarships to academic institutions all over the country. These scholarship recipients are spread over more than 65 academic institutions throughout the United States.
The Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program is an attempt to assist minority students with the financial aspects of college life. It is important to note that these scholarships are available to all deserving minorities, not just African Americans. In addition to the financial demands of college life, the program addresses academic needs by including a mentoring and internship program.
Part of the weeks activities include workshops on money management, credit smarts, resume and cover letters, self-esteem, business idea presentation and a host of important life skills that have been included as part of these young peoples growth.
Buddha, the ancient Indian philosopher, said, neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds. The Johnson Foundations work is providing opportunity in places where none exist, and its effects will surely be everlasting.
Last year, Magic gave the fans their first opportunity to see LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and T.J. Ford, among others. This years game treated the faithful fans to a sneak preview of three of the record eight high school players selected in the 2004 NBA Draft.
Leading the way were local talents Robert Swift from Bakersfield High School (12th overall pick), Dorrell Wright of Leuzinger (19th overall pick) and J.R. Smith from St. Benedicts Prep (NJ) as the 19th overall pick. The Seattle Supersonics selected Wright, Swift will go to the Miami Heat and Smith was drafted by the New Orleans Hornets.
Bakersfield Highs Robert Swift was the most recognized of the group. Swift had received much local media attention through his highly anticipated signing at USC, high school ineligibility issues, leading his team to a state title and eventually entering the NBA Draft. Swift is thought to be the first White (American born) player to go directly from high school to the NBA.
The NBA veteran team, coached by Magic, barely beat the Rookie/Sophomore team, coached by comedian Steve Harvey and WNBA star Lisa Leslie.
Ex-Bruin T.J. Cummings lead the rookie team with 24 points.
Robert Swift topped all of the high schoolers by dropping in 20 points, including a few monster dunks.
Magic Johnson has hinted for years that he was ready to pass the celebrity game torch to the next generation of stars, but had never provided any details. After the game, Johnson outlined his vision for the future. He has established a clear timeline for passing the event on to the games new stars.
Johnson turned to Paul Pierce and said, I always told Paul that someday this would be his league, and today it is. Johnson plans to begin the transition by gradually slipping behind Paul Pierce and Baron Davis, two of the NBAs top talents, and both Los Angeles natives. What could be better than turning this game over to these two young stars? asked Johnson. Pierce grew up in the shadow of the forum in Inglewood, and played at Inglewood High School. Baron Davis played his High School ball at Venice High and spent his brief college career as a UCLA Bruin.
Johnson says that after next years 20th anniversary game, he will bill the 2006 game as Paul and Barons game. We would still show them how to put it on, we would even do it for them in the beginning. Johnson would be bowing out after 20 years of raising money for the causes that he champions-primarily, education for inner city youth and his latest endeavor, health care for those unable to afford it.
Johnsons philanthropy has become so much a part of his life that it would be foolish to think of this passing of the torch as retirement. Magic will merely move on to further provide opportunity to those in need.
G. Montgomery can be reached at G. Montgomery@att.net
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